Thousands of Chinese Christians this week stationed themselves in and outside of a church in Zhejiang province after Communist Party officials threatened to bulldoze their place of worship. Local residents and religious leaders on Friday said the demolition is part of a provincial campaign to curb the spread of Christianity, which officials believe is growing too fast.
The Telegraph with more:
In an episode that underlines the fierce and long-standing friction between China’s officially atheist Communist Party and its rapidly growing Christian congregation, Bible-carrying believers this week flocked to the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou hoping to protect it from the bulldozers.
Their 24-hour guard began earlier this week when a demolition notice was plastered onto the newly-constructed church which worshippers say cost around 30 million yuan (£2.91 million) and almost six years to build.
Officials claimed the church had been built illegally and used red paint to daub the words: “Demolish” and “Illegal construction” onto its towering facade.
Wenzhou is said to be home to China’s largest Christian community. Around 15 percent of the city’s seven million residents are church goers, mostly Protestant, according to local Christians.
Residents told the Washington Post that they believe the real target is the prominent crosses used by churches to advertise their presence. Christian leaders say the provincial Communist Party secretary had a problem with the large and bright crosses visible across the city, and at least six of them had been removed recently.
According to an evangelical church leader from Wenzhou, officials had demanded that Sanjiang church remove crosses on the building along with several small spires on the rooftop, and when church leaders refused, officials threatened to tear it down.
The church was completed last year after local Christians pooled together more than 20 million yuan for its construction. Officials claim that it was illegally built and was structurally unsafe.
A local government official said the government was trying to resolve the issue peacefully and is still negotiating with people.
It’s unclear exactly how many Christians there are among China’s population, although in 2010 there were an estimated 21 million members of the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement—China’s officially sanctioned and government-controlled Protestant church.
The Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, the city known as “China’s Jerusalem”, is registered with authorities but does not belong to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, according to the Post.